People with severe asthma who rely on prednisone are more than three times more likely to be depressed than those with severe cases who don't use prednisone and those with mild to moderate asthma, according to a new study from The Netherlands.
Prednisone-dependent asthma patients "deserve" screening for depression and anxiety, the authors say, both to alleviate their suffering and possibly improve their physical health through mental health treatment.
"There's a well-established connection with asthma, as well as chronic illness in general, and higher reports of depression than the general population," Dr. Rebecca Hashim told Reuters Health.
Hashim, an attending psychologist at Children's Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, was not involved in the study.
Prednisone is a steroid anti-inflammatory medication used to treat asthma attacks, often among people with severe symptoms.
Previous research has linked steroid use to depression and other mood problems. And links in both directions have been found between depression and the severity of asthma symptoms.
To examine depression risk among asthma patients, Dr. Marijke Amelink, from the department of Respiratory Medicine at the Academic Medical Centre at the University of Amsterdam, and Dr. Simone Hashimoto, of the Institute of Psychiatry at Leiden University in Leiden, recruited 187 patients.
Among the patients, 67 had severe prednisone-dependent asthma and 47 had severe non-prednisone dependent asthma. Another 73 patients had mild to moderate asthma.
People in the three groups were similar, although prednisone-dependent patients tended to be older, with greater limitations in their ability to breathe.
All patients answered questions about depression and anxiety, as well as questions designed to detect personality traits that could contribute to their risk of mood issues.
The researchers found that patients with severe prednisone-dependent asthma were 3.4 times more likely to be depressed than non-prednisone dependent patients with severe asthma, and 3.5 times more likely to be depressed than patients who had mild to moderate asthma.
The prednisone-dependent patients were also 2.5 times more likely to have anxiety compared to patients with mild to moderate symptoms, but there was no significant difference when compared to those with severe non-prednisone dependent asthma.
The Dutch researchers didn't find any significant differences in personality traits among the participants.
In their report in the journal Respiratory Medicine, the authors point out that non-prednisone-dependent asthma patients had depression and anxiety scores that were similar to those of the general public, while the prednisone-dependent patients had scores similar to patients with other serious medical conditions.
Hashim said the increased risk of depression might be due to the stress of the treatment, rather than severity of illness. This would be similar to other chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, that require complex daily treatment regimens.
"It's not really disease severity so much, but I think what it does speak to is the level of maintenance required," she said, "It reminds you of your illness all the time."
Having long-term untreated depression or anxiety can potentially lead to further illness, especially if it affects patients' ability to take care of their health.
"The more depressed you are, the less likely you're going to be to be able to take care of these responsibilities," she added.
Hashim said it's important for doctors to be screening for depression, adding that caregivers and loved ones can go along on the office visits to express their concerns to their doctors.